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Meet Alison Hurst of Safe Place for Youth

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alison Hurst.

Alison, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
When did it become ok for kids to live in tents off freeway off ramps? Or for college students to live in their cars? These are the questions that I asked when I moved to Venice from the UK almost 17 years ago. Shocked and troubled by what I saw, I mobilized a group of dedicated volunteers to hand out food packs and dry socks to young people on Venice Beach.

The kids we saw, were fleeing abuse and neglect and had been thrown away by the very people meant to protect them. Inspired by the youth’s resilience and the community’s desire to help, that same group of community volunteers launched Safe Place for Youth in December 2011, an organization dedicated to supporting youth, ages 12-25, transition off the streets and into safe and stable housing and employment. In 2017, SPY helped 180 youth exit the streets and move into safe and stable housing.

Today, SPY is the lead service provider for homeless youth on the westside and operates a Drop-In Center located on Lincoln Blvd. The healing-centered and low-barrier programming offered at SPY is the first step to engage youth experiencing, or at-risk-of experiencing, homelessness, and help them access supportive services.

SPY believes that the solution to ending youth homelessness in our city is community collaboration, and we incorporate this into every aspect of a robust continuum of care that includes Street Outreach, Drop-In Services — where young people have access to hot meals, clothing, showers, hygiene products, and medical assistance —Health and Wellness Programming, Case Management, Healing Arts, Education and Employment support, Pregnant and Parenting classes, and connections to Housing. Over 1,000 youth accessed SPY’s Drop-In Center in 2017.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Los Angeles is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis. Escalating rents that outpace wages and a shortfall of over 500,00 affordable units for low-income households causes many individuals to be priced out of the housing market. When accounting for housing costs and another cost of living expenses, nearly ¼ of LA County residents live in poverty—this is the highest rate in California. These economic factors can make it difficult for young people to locate affordable, stable, and safe housing.

In fact, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) 2018 Greater Homeless Count recently revealed that there are 3306 homeless youth in Los Angeles County. This is a 2% increase compared to last year. These numbers are calculated during a point in time count, meaning it is only a snapshot of the bigger picture. Accurately accounting for all homeless youth is difficult because of their transient nature.

During the fiscal year 2017, SPY provided services to over 1100 youth and nearly 200 were connected to safe and stable housing opportunities. Many more are still waiting for resources to help them move out of homelessness. Research shows that homeless youth and young adults are at increased risk of physical and sexual exploitation and victimization, mental health and substance use problems, and poor physical health due to a lack access to health care. About 55% of the youth at SPY, for example, have exchanged sex for money or a place to stay.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Safe Place for Youth – what should we know?
SPY has grown from a 100% volunteer-led organization to a professional staff of 29. SPY supports youth, ages 12-25, to transition off the streets and into safe and stable housing/shelter and employment. The trauma-informed, low-barrier programming offered at SPY is the first step to engage youth experiencing or at-risk of homelessness into our continuum of supportive services.

At SPY, we believe that the solution to ending youth homelessness is community collaboration, and we incorporate this into every aspect of our robust continuum of care that includes Street Outreach, Drop-In Services, Health and Wellness Programming, Case Management, Healing Arts, Education and Employment support, Pregnant and Parenting support, and connections to Housing. Working together with public and private service providers, system representatives, policymakers, researchers, funders, coalitions, community members, local businesses, volunteers, and the youth, SPY works to empower the community in its coordinated efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness.

SPY’s leadership team has outlined the following long-term strategic goals to guide us through to 2020: (1) Provide extended and expanded day-to-day support to street-based and housing insecure young people. (2) Create new housing resources for youth including rapid re-housing, crisis, bridge and transitional housing. (3) Ensure ample educational and employment opportunities to meet current economic needs. (4) Operate a first- in- class agency that elevates staff and consistently delivers high quality, data-driven services. (5) Use our organizational voice to amplify the experience and wisdom of the young people we serve and to guide our community in the role we all play in ending youth homelessness.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Community collaboration plays a big role in the success of our work, from the beginning we have relied upon members of the community to maximize our impact through volunteerism.

Also, a partnership with community-based and government organizations to strengthen our services has been integral in creating our “One-stop Shop” approach, The Venice Family Clinic, Department of Mental Health. The Westside Coalition are a few of the many that have contributed to the success of SPY.

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